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It’s been an exciting few months for you, Piet!

“It certainly has! And not just for me. It’s also been exciting for my colleague Wim Haemelynck, who was responsible for the construction of the CDC. We’re now well into the finishing stage and the systems are being tested. In mid-November, the first shipments will be sent out, heading for our 53 shops and a few large customers.”

The logistics flow behind the project is nothing short of revolutionary.

“That’s right. The CDC is a reference project for the Sonepar group, which Cebeo is a member of, and it’s intended to be a model for our group all over the world of how new warehouses can be developed. The focus of the logistics concept is on consolidation: more than 80% of the items ordered are brought together simultaneously from different zones.”

How does the process work?

“We have already divided our materials into four general zones. There’s one zone for cables on reels, which includes both cables with standard measurements and cables cut to custom lengths and sizes for our customers. Then we have the VNA (Very Narrow Aisle) warehouse for large boxes and pallets, the tote storage warehouse for small items (OSR) and the long goods (lengths over two metres). In the mornings, empty cages are taken to the first floor in the goods lifts. While picking and packing small materials into reusable totes from the OSR warehouse, conveyable materials are brought up from the VNA warehouse on pallets using a Fraxinus lift installation. Each box is then taken off the pallet onto a tray and follows the small totes in the direction of the consolidation zone, where 504 outlets have been provided for.”

Let’s zoom in on the VNA zone for a moment. How are the items conveyed?

“In this zone, we have an operator filling the pallets, who then puts them on the chain conveyor. The pallets travel around twenty metres and then go directly to the first floor on the lift. There is an angled merge conveyor there which directs the pallets onto the belt conveyor, where they’re picked and consolidated with the items from the OSR warehouse.”

During the development stage, we decided to modify the design.

“That’s right. Initially, we were going to use a forklift to lift the pallets to the upper level. However, at some point you suggested that it would be too laborious to work that way. Hence, we got together to put on our thinking caps and come up with an alternative. Eventually, we came up with this solution with chain conveyors built into the floor and a lift installation, which is much more stable and safer.”

You have to be bold and make changes when necessary. That’s a good fit with our direct style.

“Indeed. Although we were already confident about working with you based on your references, e.g. from Umicore and Pasfrost, we really did appreciate your straightforward approach and communication style. Fraxinus doesn’t just work with its customers to come up with the best possible solution for each individual project... it also does not shy away from taking responsibility where it’s needed.”

When you’re entrusted with a crucial role in a logistics process, that’s really the only way to work. Earlier on, you referred to our second installation, the goods lifts, as the vulnerable point in the distribution centre.

“They really are. In the mornings, the cages are taken up for filling and in the afternoons, they come back down full and are set down at the right gate for shipping. These lifts have to work perfectly if everything is to be delivered on time. That’s why we insisted on having the two lifts – inbound and outbound – 100% separate. Each lift has its own safeguards and PLCs. The only element where they’re linked is the emergency stop. That means that if one of the lifts goes wrong, we can still use the other one.”

The plans also included scope for the future.

“The system is already equipped for two more lifts, so that we’ll be able to have four lifts later on. Having the system already set up for them means the installation time for the new lifts will be shorter and we can keep the two existing lifts operational during the work. In fact, the whole of the CDC has been designed with an eye to growth. We’ve got everything in place to keep operating without stopping production.”

To finish with, we’d love to have a few technical details of the systems. What are the highlights?

“We work with belt conveyors recessed into the floor. These are easier and safer for our operators to navigate with pallets. In addition, we work entirely with flat drive belts for raising the lifts, as bethese are lower maintenance than chains and steel cables. Finally, the goods lifts have been configured so that the operators can decide for themselves whether the goods flow in the lifts is upwards or downwards. There are indicator lights with arrows as visual information about what the lift is doing. That means that the lifts don’t get blocked up by communication failures.”

You’re currently working hard on testing everything, and will be shipping the first orders very soon. How’s it all going?

“By the time this newsletter is published, we’ll already be in full flow. Once the first shipments have been made, we’ll be gradually relocating the whole of the warehouse from Mouscron to Blandain.”

We wish you every success!

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As of autumn 2023, the company will be delivering to its 53 Belgian shops from its new CDC in Blandain, as well as directly to customers and sites. On start-up, the centre will have 110,000 warehouse bins, with the potential to expand to over 1 million bins.

The CDC is a highly strategic project, developed in response to rapid growth. By automating its systems, lead times will be reduced enormously and the company can work on developing supporting services for its customers.

Cebeo’s goal for the CDC is to secure an ‘Excellent’ BREEAM certification. This certification affirms that they have put serious thought and effort into greening spaces, using green energy and making the building sustainable. For example, the CDC has consigned cardboard and plastic to history and now works entirely with ‘returnable totes’. For the people who work there, the CDC will be a modern, ergonomic and pleasant place to work.

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Cebeo, based in Waregem, is Belgium’s market leader in the distribution of electrical equipment for electricians and HVAC installers. A member of the French family-owned Sonepar group, the company prides itself on its exemplary standards of customer service provision and portfolio of value-added services, including same-day express deliveries and supplying high volumes.

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